Initial outrage over the country’s political instability has only grown as the death toll rises. At least 53 people have died in the unrest since protests began in Peru in December, and 772 others have been injured, the national ombudsman’s office said Thursday.
Smoke was seen billowing from the fields surrounding Arequipa International Airport, which suspended flights on Thursday, as several people tried to pull down fences, live footage showed from the city. The demonstrators shouted “murderers” at the advancing police and threw stones.
The country is experiencing its worst violence in decades, which erupted after the December ousting of former President Pedro Castillo, as protesters opposing the current government call for political change.
Protesters marching in Lima on Thursday demanded the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and called for a general election as soon as possible – while defying the government’s state of emergency on Sunday.
General Victor Sanabria, head of the Peruvian national police for the Lima region, told local media that 11,800 police were deployed in Lima, with key locations including the parliament, the prosecutor’s office, some television stations, the Supreme Court and Army Headquarters receiving additional protection.
Authorities have been accused of using excessive force against protesters, including firearms, in recent weeks. Autopsies of 17 dead civilians killed during protests in the town of Juliaca revealed wounds caused by projectiles from firearms, the town’s chief of forensics told CNN en Español.
A fact-finding mission to Peru led by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) revealed that gunshot wounds were found in the victims’ heads and upper bodies, vice-president Edgar Stuardo Ralón said on Wednesday. – chairman of the committee.
Police denied using disproportionate force, saying their tactics met international standards.
Ralon also described “a deterioration in the public debate” over the protests in Peru, with protesters branded as “terrorists” and indigenous peoples referred to with pejorative terms, which he and other experts said could generate “a climate more violence”.
“When the press uses that, when the political elite uses that, I mean, it’s easier for the police and other security forces to use that kind of repression, right?” Omar Coronel, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru who specializes in Latin American protest movements, told CNN.
Ralón, of the IACHR, said the investigation into Peru should “focus on human rights and a racial and ethnic approach since the clashes occurred in the southern region and among the victims, dead and wounded, there are Quechuas and Aymaras”.
Peruvian officials have not released details of those killed in the unrest. However, experts say indigenous protesters are suffering the greatest bloodshed.
“The victims are overwhelmingly indigenous people from rural Peru,” Jo-Marie Burt, senior researcher at the Washington Bureau for Latin America, told CNN.
“The protests were staged in central and southern Peru, heavily indigenous regions of the country, these are regions that have historically been marginalized and excluded from the political, economic and social life of the nation.”
The protesters want new elections, the resignation of Boluarte, a change in the constitution and the release of Castillo, who is currently in pretrial detention.
At the heart of the crisis are demands for better living conditions that have not been met in the two decades since the restoration of democratic rule in the country.
As Peru’s economy has boomed over the past decade, many have failed to reap its gains, with experts noting chronic deficiencies in security, justice, education and other basic services in the country.
Castillo, a former teacher and union leader who had never held elected office before becoming president, hails from rural Peru and has positioned himself as a man of the people. Many of his supporters hail from poorer areas and hoped that Castillo would bring better prospects to rural and indigenous people in the country.
While protests have taken place across the country, the worst violence has taken place in the rural and indigenous south, which has long been at odds with the country’s white and mixed-race coastal elites, who are a person of mixed descent.
Peru’s legislative body is also viewed with skepticism by the public. The president and members of congress are not allowed to serve consecutive terms, according to Peruvian law, and critics have noted their lack of political experience.
A poll published in September 2022 by the IEP showed that 84% of Peruvians disapproved of the performance of Congress. Legislators are perceived not only to pursue their own interests in Congress, but are also associated with corrupt practices.
The country’s frustrations have been reflected in its years-long rotating presidency. Current President Boluarte is the sixth head of state in less than five years.